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Women at work March 9, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eco-goodness, Eh?, Meat, Peculiarities, The job.
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It’s mid-morning and I’m driving through Windhoek’s location, Katatura, trying to remember how to get to the most north-westerly suburb of the township, Hakahana. I was warned to have all the doors locked and certainly not to pull over unless hailed to by a policeman after countless stories of car-jacking. But despite being a little white girl peering over the wheel of a white elephant of an SUV veering between the ancient taxis and broken robots (what they call traffic lights here), no one approaches the car, and probably are wondering how I got so lost to end up here.
I pass the sign of Hakahana and turn onto a familiar dirt road, lined by informal housing, aka a row of rickety metal shacks and shabbily built brick buildings. I see Severia sitting on a beer crate under a tree out the front of one of the houses and pull in.
“Meme!! How is it?”, she greets me with a broad grin. “I am happy you are here. Now we work?”, starting to get the equipment out the car. I however am distracted by another young lady also sat under the tree, holding up a bloody axe, her face split in a wide toothy grin. “Walalepo, meme”, I stutter, as I see a vast red oozing mess at her feet.
Severia is a delightful Ovambo lady, who is one of the few people in the country who know how to make a wood-efficient cooking stove called a Tso-tso stove. After training some of our Ovitoto community on how to make them last December, I have asked her down to
Windhoek to show me in detail how to make one, so I can make a technical manual for our Ovitoto trainees. Amazingly, years after its invention in Zimbabwe, no such how-to manual exists. In fact, there is barely any literature on it at all, so I have taken it upon myself to write a comprehensive technical guide for trainees.
The day before we had been out to Ovitoto with her to cut the metal shapes which shall be assembled to become a tso-tso stove. We were going to work out there all week, but Severia said she would rather work at her brother’s house in Hakahana. She made some comment about there being no mobile phone reception in Ovitoto, which I thought an odd thing to say since there isn’t any up where she lives, making it a sheer miracle that she received enough information from me to leave her crops and livestock and travel 900km to Windhoek.
So that’s what I am doing in Hakahana. Today, she is going to show me how the medley of metal jigsaw pieces fit together. She sets to work under the tree. I am given a rusty office swivel chair, which sits unevenly on the rocky ground under the tree, and am soon joined by various members of her family. There’s a comfortable and happy atmosphere, as they crowd round under the tree’s shade, asking questions about the stove, and taking pictures on their camera phones.
I’m meant to be noting down how she assembles the stove, but am totally distracted by the other lady who starts pulling what looks like bits of brain out of the ear hole of what seems to be an entire cow’s head. No one else is interested. They are all watching Severia make the stove.
“Cow? Beef?”, I ask, keen to understand what is going on.
“Ya, ya, Very good”, she happily nods, as she picks up the axe and starts whimsically striking the skull, bits of blood and goo splattering the yellow dirt. A heavy strike splits the skull in two, sending the flies back into the air, covering her in shards of bone, which she absent-mindedly brushes away. She delved her fingers inside the skull, and laboriously rips the head in two. I am mesmerised.
“Meme, do you want a photo?”. Severia breaks my trance.
“What? Er, oh, er, no, it’s ok.”
“Of the stove? You need photo of me making the stove.”
Yeah, yeah, good point, back to work, watch the stove, concentrate. Don’t look at the red mess leaking onto the ground.
After two hours of struggled concentration of stove making, and distraction of cow head dissection, the stove is finished, and I have a wealth of information that I need. The stove looks great; Severia is happy with her efforts. The cow-head lady wipes the axe in the dirt, and picks up a meagre bag of flesh that has been scraped from the head; she too seems happy with her efforts.
I am bid a warm farewell by her family, decline a few marriage proposals, and hop back in the car so I can get going on writing up this manual. I can’t concentrate though. I smell of bloody cow flesh. Yuk!

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